125 Years of Motorsport
Stuttgart. The combination of technical perfection, performance and speed has made racing cars so fascinating ever since the birth of motorsport 125 years ago. This applies in equal measure to record vehicles whose victories also draw a fair amount of attention.
200 km/h for the first time
The Benz 200 hp record car with a 21.5-litre, four-cylinder engine does just this. With it, Victor Hémery cracks this speed barrier for the first time in Europe in Brooklands, England in 1909. More records are to follow in North America, where the fastest land-based vehicle of the day, which is even faster than the aeroplanes of that era, is given the honorary title of “Lightning Benz”.
The Grand Prix of Europe in 1923
In 1922, the aerodynamically optimised Benz teardrop-shaped racing cars become the world’s first mid-engined racing machines. They finish their racing debut performance in the Grand Prix of Europe in 1923, securing fourth and fifth places.
Silver Arrow records
The successful racing cars of the 1930s give rise to equally successful record cars. At the top of the tree is the W 125 twelve-cylinder vehicle driven by Rudolf Caracciola, who on 28 January 1938 achieves the absolute speed record for vehicles driven on public roads at 432.7 km/h. The record stands for almost 80 years.
The tri-axle T 80 record car fitted with a Mercedes-Benz DB 603 aircraft engine aims even higher. Sadly, the T 80 is never actually used. In 2018, Mercedes-Benz Classic showcases the original chassis with authentic reconstruction of the tubular lattice frame and a cutaway model of the DB 603 in a unique exhibit.
To be used in just one race the 1939 Tripoli Grand Prix in Libya Mercedes-Benz develops the 1.5-litre W 165 racing car in just eight months. It was worth it: the Stuttgart-based brand takes a spectacular double victory with Hermann Lang ahead of Rudolf Caracciola.
Experimental records: In the 1970s, the fascinating Mercedes-Benz C 111 experimental vehicle (1969/70). The C 111-II D (1976), C 111-III (1978, both with a diesel engine) and C 111-IV (1979, with a V8 petrol engine) set multiple world records on the high-speed circuit in Nardò, Italy.
The Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 (W 201) celebrates a string of record-breaking runs in 1983 in Nardò. The compact, high-performance saloon car sets world records over 25,000 kilometres, 25,000 miles and 50,000 kilometres, simultaneously marking the start of a great racing career in the DTM.
In 1985, trainees from the Mercedes-Benz plants in Sindelfingen and Untertürkheim, Germany driving the Mercedes-Benz Alpha Real solar-powered vehicle win the first “Tour de Sol” in Switzerland, a rally for cars powered by electricity harnessed from sunlight.
From 1993 onwards and under the utmost secrecy, the 3.4-litre Mercedes-Benz 500I V8 engine is developed from scratch for the Penske-Mercedes PC 23 IndyCar and features the classic pushrod design principle. Al Unser Jr goes on to win the Indy 500 in 1994. Due to a subsequent change in racing regulations, however, this is the 500I’s only outing.
During a 30-day endurance test staged in Laredo, Texas in 2005, three standard Mercedes-Benz E 320 CDI (W 211) models set several world records over distances of up to 100,000 miles, once again proving the reliability of the Stuttgart-based brand.
In 2013, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive circles the North Loop of the Nürburgring (nicknamed the “green hell”) in a record-breaking time of 7:56:234 minutes. The super sports car is the first production electric car to complete a circuit of the legendary race track in less than eight minutes.
In 2015, Mercedes-Benz marks a spectacular class victory in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb (USA). A dedicated racing car is not used, however, but instead an almost completely standard C 300 d 4MATIC (W 205). Uwe Nittel finishes the mountainous 19.99-kilometre route, overcoming a difference in altitude of over 1,400 metres, in just 11:37 minutes – � � a new record for diesel-powered vehicles.
High-performance automobiles bearing the famous star also contribute to other sporting records. In 1962, for example, racing cyclist José Meiffret becomes the first person to reach 200 km/h on a bicycle trailing in the slipstream of a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing” (W 198), a good half a century after the Benz 200 hp record car becomes the first petrol-powered vehicle to cross this magical threshold.
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